Clause 34 - Penalty points

Road Safety Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:00 pm on 28th March 2006.

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Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport) 6:00 pm, 28th March 2006

I beg to move amendment No. 71, in clause 34, page 35, line 20, leave out ‘seven’ and insert ‘three’.

The clause enables the courts to offer offenders convicted of certain specified offences the opportunity to undertake a retraining course, which will give them a remission of penalty points. It inserts into the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 offences such as careless and inconsiderate driving, failure to comply with traffic signs and speeding. The opportunity to pay for and undertake retraining courses is offered where the driver is not to be disqualified but his licence is to be endorsed with penalty points. The retraining courses can be offered only when the offender has reached at least seven points and no more than 11. That is obvious; otherwise he would be disqualified.

We see what the Minister is driving at, but amendment No. 71 is designed to elicit from him why he has chosen seven penalty points as the starting point for a driver to apply for one of the retraining courses. We believe that they could be more specifically and successfully aimed at first-time or less serious   offenders, so that there is no progression. Indeed, as I understand it, some police forces offer the courses in the place of prosecution, aimed particularly at the lower end of the scale. [Interruption.] They cost between £100 and £135 and should be self-financing.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

On a point of order, Sir Nicholas. I wonder whether Front Bench spokesmen get three points for using a mobile phone.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that they get six under me.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

That is very good news.

The courses are now being extended to the courts, so we are keen to find out why only serious offenders who already have seven points can apply for them. Surely the progression that we discussed earlier is equally important. We should encourage all individuals to be responsible users and should give them an opportunity to attend a retraining course. Surely someone who has only three points would benefit from such a course as much as someone who has seven. It seems sensible to us to try to nip what is irresponsible, bad driving rather than criminal activity in the bud well before someone gets to a massive seven penalty points.

Therefore, I should be interested to hear why the Minister wants to set the level at seven. Will it be simply a matter of resource?

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

I think that I can help the hon. Gentleman. The police can already, at their discretion, offer an alternative to three points when they are giving a fixed penalty notice. Typically, they would write to the individual giving them the opportunity to take a training course rather than pay the normal fixed penalty.

We want the courts to have the opportunity to offer courses. The amendment suggests that if the person is about to be given three points—that would indicate that they had not committed any previous offences—they would have the opportunity to take a training course instead of the three points. We thought it more sensible to set the bar a little higher than that so that, by definition, it must be the second offence. The maximum that the person could previously have got is six points, so seven points shows that, at the very least, it is their second offence. In those circumstances clearly a pattern is beginning to set in, which could perhaps be nipped in the bud by sending the individual on a training course, but a pattern had not been established at the first offence. However, the hon. Gentleman should remember that the individual may already have been sent on a course at the police’s discretion, as a result of having previously been offered a fixed penalty.

Again, this is an issue where reasonable people can have a reasonable disagreement. We have simply decided that the bar should be set slightly higher than the three points in the hon. Gentleman’s probing amendment.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am sure that this is indeed a case where reasonable people can have a reasonable disagreement, but if two offences have already been   committed I suggest that a pattern is involved already and that things are not then being nipped in the bud. I hope that the Government will review this at some stage and that they might be able to reduce the level at which these courses are introduced. However, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I beg to move amendment No. 78, in clause 34, page 35, line 32, leave out subsection (3).

The amendment is designed simply to tease from the Government what other offences they have in mind that could be either added or removed given the qualification on these attendances. We also thought that a period of evaluation, to see whether the scheme works, might be sensible. It is therefore a simple probing amendment so that the Minister can tell us what other offences he may consider adding or removing in future.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

I cannot really help the hon. Gentleman much because at this time we have no such offences in mind. There are no obvious candidates to be added but it would seem sensible to retain this power to do something by regulation, since bringing forward further primary legislation would, clearly, not usually justify Parliament’s time. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we have no particular offences in mind here. We simply think it more appropriate to retain the power in the Bill so that we need never come back to the full Chamber in future for primary legislation just to add something that has emerged from changing traffic conditions or changing attitudes to road traffic offences.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

Like many colleagues on this side of the Chamber, we have a deep mistrust of secondary legislation by statutory instrument. However, I welcome the Minister’s commendable honesty and am grateful for his comments. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.